The second interesting feature about online debate that differentiates it from traditional, in person debate is the closeness of the relationship you probably have your debate partner. Let me give you a pretty simple example from my life, and I think that you will probably be able to make it into a relevant issue in your own life.
I am one of those people who, when I meet someone interesting, I tend to find them on Facebook and add them as a friend. This is partially for networking purposes so that I don’t lose people I might want to contact in the future. The other reason is because I feel like that is simply what we do as millennials in 2018. Therefore, while I certainly do not accept friend requests from people I do not know or at least do not know of, many of the people who I am connected with are not overly close associates who I would invite out to dinner for example.
Clearly, there is not a very high level of intimacy for me and a lot of my Facebook friends, and that is perfectly fine. I don’t need to be best friends with that many people. I simply don’t have the time, and they probably don’t have the time either. A Facebook friend request is really not always indicative of actual friendship. It is rather a connection that can be made for a variety of purposes, but very few of them actually involve literally being friends and hanging out on the weekends.
On my personal Facebook, I post controversial things from time to time, mostly from what I have written on this website. These people who know me from a distance are seeing what I write. However, the intimacy is not there. They do not really know me all that well, but we are talking about things that sometimes strike at a very deep, personal level.
I write a lot about pro-life issues as you know if you are a loyal reader of this website. I am more than happy to sit down and have a conversation with someone about pro-life issues in person. However, in my experience, the people who I would interact with about this difficult, deep issues are my good friends. They are people who know me very well, and we have an established relationship that causes us to feel comfortable talking about these topics.
Before I proceed any further, this is not to say that real friendship cannot involve discussion online. That is certainly possible and, at least in my opinion, highly enjoyable. Those people that we have actual relationships with and talk with online are not what I’m talking about here. Because we are actual friends, it is certainly understandable that we would have conversations about difficult topics. That is probably to be expected if you are my friend.
The difference I am trying to illustrate here is that because of the loose nature that many people use to define friendship via Facebook, we end up in a situation where people we barely know are seeing how we feel about topics that would generally only be approached when there is some level of friendship already established. A lot of my Facebook friends for example would know how I feel about abortion, but they might have met me one time at a power soccer match and really don’t know anything about me.
That leads to a very different dynamic when engaging in debate. If we actually are friends and have a type of relationship that has more depth than a one-time meaning, I feel like the discussions often times go a lot further. If we really have not done very much together, it is much easier to for example try to strawman another person’s argument or not assume good faith.
As one final example, I have oftentimes heard it said that pro-life individuals don’t care about the mother whatsoever. To this day, I have never had any of my actual friends accuse me of that behavior. Why? They know that is not the case with me because they know me and how I respect to the dignity of all people, men and women. However, if you read the comments section on some of the articles I have posted at The Federalist, you would think I was the most misogynistic person to ever walk the face of the earth. It is a little bit different because that is not Facebook, and these are just random trolls. However, I think the point remains. In online debate, it is much easier to fight with someone and do so much more irresponsibly because we do not have any actual friendship with them or even relationship to stand on.